Thursday, February 13, 2014

The hardest people to love.

Back in January when people were thinking about making resolutions for the New Year, I saw a theme recurring in various places.  It was the theme of purging friends.

Currently, a mindset is evolving that says, "I can only afford to have people in my life who build me up and make me feel good about myself.  This is what I deserve from my friends.  Thus, anyone who drains me and brings me down shall be henceforth purged from my life."

This makes me profoundly sad.  Maybe it's because I feel as though I am a person who brings people down, and I am the one on the chopping block of life.  I've had a rough year, and I've probably been a needy, draining person to be close to.  In life, there are seasons when we can give generously, and there are seasons when we need others to help us shoulder our load.  I hope that I do offer something of value to the people I love, but I also hope (desperately) that the people I love will not kick me out of their lives when I don't have much to give and I long for a shoulder to cry on.

The truth is, the people who need love the most are often the hardest to love.

The people who need love the most are the hardest to love.

The mindset of only ever surrounding yourself with people who "bring you up," is one of the most selfish and futile attitudes I have ever encountered.

It is selfish because it exemplifies the trend of thinking, "Me.  Me.  Me." It is astounding that people do not even try to hide their selfishness anymore.  There isn't even any pretense about being concerned with the way others feel.  The media encourages us to put ourselves first, to focus on gratifying our personal desires, to measure our relationships in terms of what we can get out of them, and not in terms of how we can give to build up others.

Giving is always more gratifying than receiving.  The old adage says, "It is more blessed to give than to receive," and this is absolutely true.  If you are suffering from depression, if you are down in the dumps, one of the best things you can do is to go out and perform kindnesses for those less fortunate than yourself.

When you reach out to someone who has profound needs and can never pay you back, you have tremendous opportunities.  Entering the mess of someone else's situation will help you put your own situation into perspective.  You often find gratitude welling up in your heart as a result:  you recognize your own blessings and you are thankful to have them.  You may even feel thankful to be able to share them, thankful to see evidence of the good you can do when you break out of selfish mode.

When you shower love on a hurting person, you have the blessing of seeing the power of love at work.

When you use kind and encouraging words to build up someone with serious problems, you have given a priceless gift.  Our words have more value and power than we can imagine.  Proverbs 25:11 (NIV) says, "A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver."

Proverbs 15:1 (NIV) says, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."  We can affect the course of another human's whole day by the way we respond to them in a moment.  Can you say something calming (without being demeaning)?  Can you diffuse a situation with humor?

However, it requires getting out of our own heads and into the heads of others.  We have to make heroic efforts to step back from the sensations of our own thoughts and feelings, and try to imagine how the other person feels.  "Put yourself in his shoes," they used to tell us, and it was a good way to look at it, but it is very hard to do if your automatic default is to ask yourself, "How do I feel about this?  What do I get out of this? Does this make me happy?"  Instead, as the Bible tells us, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus."  (Philippians 2:3-5, NIV)

Selfishness is ugly, but it is also unproductive.  Trying to build yourself up by only choosing friends who make you happy is fated to fail.  If you depend on others to make you happy, you will never be happy.

Seeking happiness is a self-defeating goal.  I know it is supposed to be one of our inalienable rights ("...the pursuit of happiness"), but in making it a goal, we make it utterly illusive.  Happiness is called happiness because it just happens, unpredictably.  Get it?  Happy.  Happen.  Same word root.  Happiness is not something you can plan, put on the agenda, check off a list or mold into being.  Happiness happens most often when you least expect it, when you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, when you relax and love, let go, breathe, give, see.

So if you decide to make yourself happy by purging all your needy friends from your life, you might end up with less friends, but you won't likely end up much happier.

In fact, if you cast off all your needy friends, you may be left with a group of very un-needy friends.  The thing about un-needy people is that they are often fairly unscathed.  And unscathed people are also often unsympathetic.  So while they might make for a hilarious get-together when everything in your life is clicking along smoothly, they might not be there for you when you find that you, yourself, are needy.

If you choose your friends for what you can get out of them and what they can do for you, then don't be surprised if they treat you exactly the same way.  Then, the day you have nothing more to offer will be the last day of your friendships.  Your friends won't like you anymore, because you are bringing them down, draining them, needing help and support and comfort. You will be the cast off.

In my own life, I've found that the very best people, the kindest and most sympathetic and the most worth spending time with, are the ones who have come through deep hurts.  Suffering tenders people.  But in order to have relationships with this kind of person, you sometimes have to put your faith in God and the future.  If you cut them off while they are going through something--suffering, hurting, needing--you may not have the opportunity to know them when they have been tendered, matured and made beautiful in their souls.

The people who need love the most can be the hardest to love, but if you give them the love they need, you could help them through an event that will make them the best friends you ever imagined having.

And... on a day when you yourself are hard to love, wouldn't you hope that someone would share that same kind of grace with you?

Be the friend you want to have.


Lori McFarlane said...

This is a great post. It's something I've not actually ever thought about before either. I've heard lots of people talking about 'purging friends' and I never thought about it this way, but you're right. It is selfish and foolish and short-sighted. I'm going to share this post with the next person who posts on Facebook their intent to 'friend purge'. :)

ruth said...

Well, thank you.

There are also facebook friend purges, facebook friends being slightly different from real life friends. I think it's ok to delete a few facebook friends now and then, mainly because it seems that sometimes we find people that we don't even know listed among our facebook friends. If you have people showing up on your facebook to whom you would never talk in real life, people who have absolutely nothing in common with you and no known connection, I think it is okay to delete them.

But when people do facebook friend purges, I think it is crass and tasteless for them to broadcast that they are doing so. "See if you made the cut to be on MY friends list!" they seem to call out. Ugh. Better to do it quietly and just a few at a time.